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Top 15 Prospects: Los Angeles Angels

sa577984There is good news and bad news in terms of the Los Angeles Angels’ minor league system. The good news is that the club graduated – and leaned on heavily – a large number of prospects in 2011, including 1B Mark Trumbo, C Hank Conger, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Jordan Walden, and RHP Bobby Cassevah. The bad news is that the promotions pretty much stripped the system in terms of upper-level depth. One more bit of good news, though, is that the club still has the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

1. Mike Trout | CF
BORN: August 7, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (AA/MLB in 2011)
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round, New Jersey HS (25th overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

SCOUTING REPORT: Trout is about as close to a legit five-tool player that you can get. He can hit for average, has the potential to steal 30+ bases, throws well and could eventually win a Gold Glove or five. The power tool is the biggest question mark but he posted a .218 ISO rate in a potent double-A league.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Trout did not turn 20 until August but he received 123 big league at-bats in 2011. The youngster struggled, which in no way diminishes his future potential, and hit just .220/.281/.390. As a player with good speed, Trout will not continue to post BABIPs in the .240-.250 range. Although power is not a key component of his game right now, he knocked out five home runs and posted a .171 ISO and made some good, hard contact (20.7 line-drive rate).

YEAR AHEAD: While in the minors in 2011, Trout hit .326/.414/.544 in 353 double-A at-bats as a teenager. He doesn’t have much else to learn riding the buses but some time in triple-A would not hurt. With a full, mostly veteran outfield already in place in Los Angeles Trout may have to bide his time in the minors. He’d most likely be the first player recalled should an injury occur to Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter or Peter Bourjos.

CAREER OUTLOOK: As one of the Top 2 minor league prospects in all of baseball (along with Bryce Harper), it’s clear that Trout has a very bright future ahead. He won’t produce the kind of power that Harper will but Trout should have a stronger all-around game with excellent speed and defense, decent power and a solid on-base average. If he can stay healthy, it’s not hard to forsee him playing 15-20 years at the MLB level.

2. Kaleb Cowart | 3B
BORN: June 2, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons (Rookie+)
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, Georgia HS (18th overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 7th

SCOUTING REPORT: Cowart was considered by many to be a better amateur pitching prospect than hitter. However, he preferred to play the field and the Angels swayed him from his college commitment with a promise to allow him to enter pro ball as a hitter (The $2.3 million bonus didn’t hurt either). He’s still developing as a player – especially in the field – and he’s learning to tap into his power. Cowart should hit for a respectable average if he can make a little more contact. A switch-hitter, he showed an improved approach from the left side in 2011.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Cowart spent a second year in Rookie Ball but he moved up to a more advanced level and held his own. His power output (.138 ISO) was disappointing, especially when coupled with a high strikeout rate at 25.4 K%. His solid batting average was buoyed by a .363 BABIP. Defensively, Cowart shows decent range but his foot work and throwing need time to improve.

YEAR AHEAD: Cowart should receive his first taste of full-season ball in 2012 at low-A ball. The power will need to come eventually but he has to keep working on fundamentals while he catches up on lost time after spending his prep career as a two-way player. He’ll likely spend all of ’12 in low-A and shouldn’t move overly quickly.

CAREER OUTLOOK: He’s shown enough signs of progress with the bat that there is little pressure at this point to put him back on the mound. If everything clicks, Cowart has the potential to develop into a No. 3 hitter with a solid all-around game. He probably won’t be a slugger; a 20-25 home run output with full-time playing time is probably realistic. Don’t be shocked if he starts to break out in 2012.

3. C.J. Cron | 1B/DH
BORN: Jan. 5, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 1 season (Rookie+)
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, U of Utah (17th overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Cron is a bat-first prospect who projects to be a first baseman or designated hitter so he will likely have little to no defensive value as a big leaguer. Although his strengths are tied solely to his bat, he has the offensive ceiling to be a star. Cron’s power currently rates at least a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Due to a pre-existing labrum injury, Cron spent his first year in pro ball as a designated hitter. His season ended early with yet another injury – this time to his knee. Despite the excessive bandaids, Cron produced some impressive power numbers. His ISO rate sat at an eye-popping .322 and he slammed 13 homers in 34 games. Imagine what he could have done if he was 100% healthy.

YEAR AHEAD: Getting healthy is priority No. 1. Once he gets back on the field his bat should be ready for high-A ball and he’ll probably make double-A at some point. He has a lot of work to do on defense although his bat speaks for itself and will certainly get him to the Majors within two to three years.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Cron could pile up an impressive number of home runs throughout his career but he’ll have to watch his conditioning if he’s going to have a prolonged career. Cron has the skills to hit for average, power and produce above average on-base numbers. He could be ready to challenge Mark Trumbo for playing time as soon as 2013.

4. Jean Segura | 2B/SS
BORN: March 17, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons (A+)
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

SCOUTING REPORT: Segura has shown the ability to hit for average and manages to generate more power than expected from his compact frame thanks to good bat speed. He currently has plus speed. Defensively, Segura played mostly second base prior to ’11 but he moved over to shortstop to see if he could display enough range. The jury is still out and there is some concern that he’ll thicken up in the lower half and have to move back to second base.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Segura entered 2011 with his prospect value on a significant upswing. Unfortunately, he played in just 44 games thanks to hamstring issues. When able to suit up, Segura hit for a solid average (.280) and kept the strikeouts under control (13.3 K%) but his power dipped to a career low .140 ISO. It is impressive that he was still able to swipe 18 bases, but he was caught six times.

YEAR AHEAD: Segura needs to prove that he can handle a full season’s work load as he’s played 100+ games in just one season during his four-year pro career in North America. He’ll probably return to high-A ball to begin 2012 but he could see a quick promotion to double-A if he looks good.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Segura has a chance to be an above-average offensive-minded second baseman and I don’t see him sticking at shortstop long term. His contributions could resemble Carlos Baerga in his prime – but with a little more foot speed. Segura has a chance to reach the Majors in 2013 but the Angels organization has also made some improvements to its middle infield depth so he has some other prospects nipping at his heels.

5. Garrett Richards | RHP
BORN: May 27, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (AA/MLB)
ACQUIRED: 2009 supplemental 1st round, U of Oklahoma
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th

SCOUTING REPORT: Richards flashes a solid four-pitch repertoire that includes an 89-93 mph fastball that can touch the mid-90s, as well as a slider, curveball, and changeup. His heater and slide-piece are his two best weapons. He has a strong pitcher’s frame but his throwing motion puts strain on his shoulder.

YEAR IN REVIEW: After tossing 143 innings in 2010, he provided 157 innings in 2011, showing good durability. He had little trouble with double-A and posted a 3.68 FIP. He showed solid control but his strikeout rate of 6.48 K/9 is low for a guy with a solid fastball and decent strikeout pitch. Richards made his MLB debut in ’11 and struggled because he failed to command any of his pitches – but he did show impressive velocity.

YEAR AHEAD: Richards will probably open 2012 in triple-A and be one of the first pitchers called up if/when injuries strike. He’ll need to work on his consistency and command of his pitches. If he can pitch off his heater, Richards will be able to utilize his slider and his strikeout rate should rise.

CAREER OUTLOOK: I foresee Richards providing some value innings as a solid – but unspectacular – No. 3 or 4 starter at the MLB level. If his across-the-body throwing motion puts too much strain on his body, the right-hander could end up as a high-leverage reliever.

6. John Hellweg | RHP
BORN: Oct. 29, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons (A+)
ACQUIRED: 2008 16th round, Florida CC
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: If you like high heat, Hellweg is your man. The 6’6” right-hander is still raw but he has a considerable ceiling. His fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and his slider shows flashes of potential. His delivery gets out of whack because of his long limbs and he has a long way to go in terms of control. Prior to ’11, he had walked more than nine batters per inning in his career.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Hellweg pitched a career high 89.1 innings in 2011 and posted a 3.45 FIP. His walk rate of 5.94 BB/9 was the lowest of his career. When he finds the plate, though, he’s tough to hit (.227 average against) and misses a lot of bats (11.38 K/9). After years of posting below-average BABIPs, Hellweg saw the number surge to .340.

YEAR AHEAD: Hellweg will look to pass the double-A test in 2012. The right-hander could definitely struggle, though, unless he continues to make improvements with his command and control. He’ll be added to the 40-man roster this November but probably won’t see the Majors until 2013 at the earliest.

CAREER OUTLOOK: After three years of pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen, the organization made a smart move to extend Hellweg’s innings with a shift to the starting rotation in 2011. Even if he doesn’t stick in the rotation – a big ‘if’ if he cannot improve his control – the pitcher will benefit from the extra innings needed to hone the command of his pitches. He may never command the ball well enough to be a starter or even a closer, but he could see duty as a high-leverage reliever in the eighth inning.

7. Taylor Lindsey | 2B
BORN: Dec. 2, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons (Rookie+)
ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, Arizona HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Lindsey, just 19, has produced some impressive numbers – on the surface – over the past two seasons. He posted a .231 ISO rate and stole 10 bases in 2011 but the scouting reports coming out of his senior prep season had both his speed and power tools ranked as average to below-average. A shortstop in high school, Lindsey moved to second base in pro ball and lacks the arm strength to play on the left side of the diamond.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Lindsey hit .362/.394/.593 in 290 at-bats at the Rookie Ball level – but his triple-slash line was helped immensely by a .407 BABIP. His overly-aggressive approach probably won’t work as well at higher levels so he’s going to have to make some adjustments. He does, though, control the strike zone fairly well and struck out just 15.0% of the time, which bodes well for his development. Lindsey had excellent results against southpaws with an OPS of .938.

YEAR AHEAD: The middle infielder will move up to full season ball for the first time in his career and the move could go quite smoothly considering the small gap in talent level between advanced Rookie Ball and low-A ball. Showing more patience should be lesson No. 1 for 2012; until he struggles, though, he may be unwilling to adjust his approach.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Lindsey probably won’t be more than average at second base so his bat is going to have to carry him. His lack of defensive skills and versatility limits his future as a utility player, although he could perhaps get some experience in left field, as well.

8. Alexi Amarista | IF
BORN: April 6, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons (AAA/MLB)
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: You might be surprised to see Amarista ranked this high because he has a lower ceiling than a lot of players in the organization but I could definitely see him having a long big league career as a role player. He has the ability to play second base, shortstop and all three outfield positions. Offensively, he can do the little things, he doesn’t strike out much and he has some speed. Despite his small stature, he occasionally shows good gap power.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Amarista made his big league debut in 2011 but he didn’t perform overly well in a limited opportunity. At triple-A, though, the 22-year-old infielder hit .292/.337/.419 in 363 at-bats. Throughtout his career he’s always flirted with a .300 batting average but it’s fairly hollow and will likely remain so against the MLB-calibre pitchers. Amarista’s 15 steals was a career low and he was caught eight times. Although he has good speed, he’s never developed into a good base runner but the quickness helps him going first-to-third and on defense.

YEAR AHEAD: With some big contracts weighing the club down, the front office may look to save money with a cheap bench, which could help Amarista win a big league job in spring training. More likely, though, the big-league middle infield depth will cause him to begin the year in triple-A. He has youth on his side and could use the time in the minors to work on his approach against southpaws.

CAREER OUTLOOK: If things work out well for Amarista look for him to have a career along the lines of Alfredo Amezaga (although hopefully with fewer DL stints), who interestingly enough was also originally signed by the Angels. Amarista will receive competition for the long-term back-up job from Andrew Romine, but the Venezuelan has a better overall package of skills geared towards the utility role.

9. Fabio Martinez | RHP
BORN: Oct. 29, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons (Injured)
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th

SCOUTING REPORT: Martinez was a forgotten prospect in 2011 after he appeared in just two games due to injury. The right-hander has a mid-to-high 90s fastball and he also flashes a slider that has plus potential. His changeup is rudimentary. Martinez struggles mightily to repeat his delivery and both his command and control are below average.

YEAR IN REVIEW: As mentioned, Martinez appeared in just two games last season, and both came in mid-August. Given his shortcomings, Martinez is likely headed for a bullpen role and it might make sense for the organization to develop him as a full-time reliever in 2012. The strain of his delivery likely led to the shoulder issues that he had in ’11 so a reduced workload could be just what the doctor ordered.

YEAR AHEAD: The lost development time in ’11 did Martinez no favors. Once he is deemed 100% healthy, he’ll likely head to high-A ball. If he throws well – and especially if the club moves him to the ‘pen – he could see double-A by the end of the season but there is no need to rush him since he’s still just 22 years old.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Martinez has all the ingredients to succeed at the MLB level as a high leverage reliever… with the exception of his command and control. He still has time for those to develop but, if they don’t, he could still be a useful bullpen arm. Chances are slim for him to develop into an impact arm in the starting rotation.

10. Nick Maronde | LHP
BORN: Sept. 5, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season (Rookie+)
ACQUIRED: 2011 3rd round, U of Florida
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Lacking a second round draft pick, the Angels organization nabbed Maronde with its second pick (third round) of the 2011 amateur draft. He was a highly-ranked prep prospect but spurned clubs for the opportunity to pitch at the Univesity of Florida. His development went backwards, though, and he ended up pitching out of the bullpen – albeit with success in his junior season. Maronde shows an above-average fastball at times and it sits in the 89-94 mph range. He also flashes a decent slider and changeup.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Although he struggled in the starting rotation in college, Maronde excelled in that role during his first taste of pro ball. Caution needs to be used before getting too excited about his debut, though, as he was pitching in advanced Rookie Ball, which is a fairly easy assignment for a college pitcher. He showed good control with a walk rate of 2.91 BB/9 and his FIP sat at 3.55 (2.14 ERA) in 46.1 innings.

YEAR AHEAD: Maronde could begin 2012 in low-A ball with a quick promotion to high-A, if all goes well. If he’s going to stick in the starting rotation he needs time to work on his secondary pitches after relying too heavily on his fastball in college. If the coaches can get him down in the strike zone a little more consistently he could become a ground-ball machine.

CAREER OUTLOOK: The safe bet for Maronde is a future role as a No. 3 starter at the MLB level, assuming he can sharpen his slider and changeup. He has a big, strong pitcher’s frame that should be capable of providing 200+ innings a season.

The Next Five

11. Dan Tillman, RHP: Tillman does a nice job of combining high strikeout totals with above-average ground-ball rates. If he can keep that up, he could end up being a valuable high-leverage reliever for the Angels. He received some added exposure in the Arizona Fall League recently and could even jump over high-A (He pitched a handful of innings there in ’11) to double-A in 2012.

12. Luis Jimenez, 3B: The 23-year-old infielder showed good power in ’11 and could eventually turn some of his doubles-power into home-run power as he matures as a hitter. He has an overly-aggressive approach at the plate and may end up as a bench player. I’ve heard some very good reports on his defense.

13. Nick Mutz, RHP: Mutz was an under-the-radar pick by the Angels in the ’11 draft but the gamble could end up having excellent results. The right-hander has an above-average fastball and good slider/cutter; he could develop into a middle reliever and could also see some opportunities in the late innings.

14. Cameron Bedrosian, RHP: I’m a big fan of Bedrosian so he gets a mention here despite missing 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. The under-sized hurler has a chance to start but may end up as a high-leverage reliever like his father Steve.

15. Carlos Ramirez, C: An under-the-radar pick out of Arizona State University (8th round), Ramirez had a reputation for being a solid all-around player on both offense (expectations being lower for catchers) and defense. He is a natural leader and calls a great game. Offensively, he shows gap power and has a good idea at the plate. At worst, Ramirez should be a solid backup catcher in the Majors.

SLEEPER ALERT: Kole Calhoun, OF: Calhoun put up some impressive numbers in 2011 that were inflated by his environment. Despite that fact, he projects to develop into a solid platoon or fourth outfielder at the MLB level in the mold of Reed Johnson.